5 Reasons to Expand Beyond the Autism Friendly World

Autism shouldn't make you invisible.

so wide
so wide. getty

What's So Great About Autism-Friendly Environments?

Autism support classrooms, respectful of sensory challenges, keep decorations simple and noises low. Autism friendly performances are quiet, low-key, and flexible to the point where audience members are welcome to get up, pace, or make noise. There are even architects and interior designers who specialize in creating autism-friendly spaces in which colors and sound are muted.

There is a great deal to be said for comfort zones. For people with autism and others with sensory issues, quiet, flexible venues can be a godsend.  Without the distraction and/or discomfort created by excessive sounds, lights, colors, and people, it can be far easier to relax, think, learn, and play.  Without the anxiety created by changing schedules and routines, people with autism are generally better able to focus on learning or work.

Why Move Outside of an Autistic Person's Comfort Zone?

All this being said, however, there are also good reasons for helping a person with autism to move beyond comfort zones. Those reasons are essentially identical to the reasons why anyone should get up and leave the comfort of their own home, group of friends, set of activities, or routines. They include:

  1. Opportunities to discover one's own  interests.  A person who travels the same path and experiences the same things day after day will never have the opportunity to explore the wider world of possibilities.  Yes, for example, a typical concert is probably louder than an "autism friendly" concert -- but it may also expose the listener to whole world of new and exciting sound.
  1. Opportunities to build resilience.  Very young children are usually protected from the wider world because they are not yet ready to manage unexpected or unknown input.  But once anyone, autistic or not, grows beyond early childhood, they are ready to begin building skills to manage difficult, new, or moderately unpleasant situations. With no experience handling the new or unpleasant, people with autism may find themselves overwhelmed by the slightest change.
  1. Opportunities to find solutions to potential challenges.  If you're never challenged to cope with complex or difficult situations, you need never tap your imagination or research skills to find workarounds or alternatives. Yet it's often the case that workarounds and alternatives make it possible for people with autism to do the apparently "impossible."  A simple pair of sound-blocking earphones can make it possible for someone with sensory processing issues to enjoy the visual beauty of fireworks.  Stress-reducing techniques can make it possible for someone with significant anxiety to take part in a family event. 
  2. Opportunities to become a functional and respected member of a larger community.  It is not unusual for a family member with autism to be "invisible" to non-family members, simply because he or she is not included in ordinary community events. Fairs, church services, barbecues, and other social events may be seen as too difficult -- either for the person with autism, or for his or her family.  Barring extraordinary circumstances, however (a person with severe aggressive behaviors, for example), there is no good reason why any family member should be invisible.  Yes, it was common decades ago.  But our world, fingers crossed, has gotten past most of its knee jerk anxiety around people who look or behave differently.
  1. Opportunities for employment and volunteerism.  It is possible for a person with autism to live and work in sheltered situations for his entire life.  This happens, somewhat rarely, usually when there are no other available options. In most cases, however, real paid employment and meaningful volunteerism are a better choice.  In order to prepare for such opportunities, though, people with autism need the chance to learn skills, try their wings, and fix problems when they arise. 

Everyone needs a comfort zone, people with autism more than most. When the comfort zone holds you back, however, it's time to explore the wider world.

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